Director Ridley Scott and a question: What is justified, rational belief?

Director Ridley Scott’s new movie Prometheus is due June 8.

A fairly obvious cultural subtext emerges from this excerpt in today’s New York Times on Scott and Prometheus.

On the one hand, he said, he was inspired by the current quest to look for life beyond Earth, under the sands of Mars and in the oceans beneath the ice covering Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“I think, wow, this is a pretty useful basis for my film,” Mr. Scott recalled.

At the other end of the credibility scale is the pop archaeologist Erich von Daniken, who argued in books like his 1968 “Chariots of the Gods” that there was archaeological evidence in the form of things like the Nazca lines in Peru that we had received visitors from outer space. His claims gained no traction among professional archaeologists, but, Mr. Scott said, “to me it all made sense.”

In news conferences and in conversation Mr. Scott has evinced sympathy for the notion — popular in some circles, including the Vatican — that it is almost “mathematically impossible” for life on Earth to have gotten to where it is today without help.

“It is so enormously irrational that we can do this,” he went on, referring to our conversation — “two specs of atoms on a carbon ball.”

“Who pushed it along?” he asked. Have we been previsited by gods or aliens? “The fact that they’d be at least a billion years ahead of us in technology is daunting, and one might use the word God or gods or engineers of life in space.”

And would we want to meet them again? Mr. Scott’s countryman the cosmologist Stephen Hawking has suggested that we should be careful Out There. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Dr. Hawking said.

Mr. Scott agreed: “Hopefully they won’t visit.”

Let us consider: A belief that makes sense to an individual, yet that belief doesn’t gain the support of experts. Irrational? Alternative? Plausible? Crazy?



2 responses to “Director Ridley Scott and a question: What is justified, rational belief?

  1. Of course one may hold to a rational belief without the support of experts; indeed, the support of “experts” has never been a key component of rationality. Of course, there can be (according to thinkers like Max Weber) different kinds of rational thought; so that Scott’s tacit acceptance of these theories doesn’t necessarily make him irrational, but it does suggest that he is relying on a set of rational principles that is not necessarily shared by the bulk of the archaeological community.


  2. I appreciate that clarification: we can talk about sets of rational principles, rather than just a single set of rational principles that all rational people find to be rational.